INTERVIEW: Youth are the catalyst for sustainable change, says Transport Fellow at UNFCCC Shravani Sharma

Nermine Kotb in Sharm El-Sheikh, Monday 14 Nov 2022

For the second year running, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change launched the Climate Champions Youth Fellowship, selecting eight young professionals from a pool of over 1,000 applicants in different fields, such as finance, food and agriculture, communications, resilience, and transport.

Shravani Sharma, the Youth Transport Fellow for High Level Climate Champions UNFCCC


The team of fellows share the task of inspiring non-state action in the Race to Zero and Race to Resilience.

Youth Fellow in Transport Shravani Sharma tells Ahram Online that youth have an incredible ability to reframe climate ambition and drive systematic change.

The urban planner also believes that people are growing more aware of the devastating repercussions of climate change, which can drive the shift towards public transportation from private vehicles.

 

Ahram Online: What were your studies focused on?

Shravani Sharma: I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in urban planning and public policy from CEPT University, India, and my MSc in urban transport from the University of Glasgow, the UK. 

I have work as an urban and transport planner in mega infrastructure projects in the UK with organisations such as ARUP, and on policy advocacy, diplomacy, and engagement on clean and healthier modes of transport with organisations such as Climate Group, WRI, and IRADe.

I am pursuing my PhD in Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick, the UK, and my work revolves around understanding the role of wellbeing on transport choices.

I am also the youth transport fellow with the high-level champions in the road transport team which focuses on accelerating the transition to clean transport for COP27 and beyond.

AO: How did your interest in climate action begin and what are the most important activities you have carried out in India?

SS: Seeing my city Guwahati, India, grows from what used to be a simple, serene and quiet town into one bustling with activity and commerce, I observed the elements of urban and transport planning in action as well as inaction.

As a teenager, I wasn't able to make sense of the concepts of planning, but I was always curious and would engage in conversations with my parents and their peers about the urban issues of my city.

Mismanagement, lack of adequate planning, infrastructural shortcomings as well as issues related to transportation were considerably common in my town. Thus, I was motivated to understand the root causes behind these issues and wanted to be able to make a difference to my city one day.

Due to high purchase capacity, there was a massive increase in the number of cars, and India being an aspirational populace, the problems of congestion, air pollution, and road accidents increased which caused various health issues among the vulnerable groups.

This inspired me to work during my PhD on the impact of travel choices on wellbeing to be able to develop sustainable policies with the arrival of new technologies. I am working on positive behaviour change and how
passion, disabilities, and mental health can affect decision-making.

I have been involved in activities that inspire positive change in transport in India and abroad, such as building momentum towards an accelerated transition to zero-emission vehicles ahead of COP26, where my efforts were focused on advocacy and engagement in India.

Internationally, I have been highlighting the urgency of the challenge and emerging opportunities in electric mobility.

I was also the bicycle councillor of my hometown Guwahati, an honorary position appointed by BYCS Netherlands that aims to promote active mobility in the city.

I had earlier worked at the World Resources Institute, Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities, India, where I worked with several stakeholders such as governments, research organisations, and automobile manufacturers, to accelerate the adoption of electric mobility. 

AO: What is the Youth Climate Champions Fellowship, and how important is it?

SS: The power of the youth’s voice in reframing climate ambition and driving systematic change is incredible. Young people all over the world are driving change. This fellowship – led by the high level champions team – provided a platform for young people to work with the champions and to contribute to ambitious climate action.

From more than 1,000 applications from over 80 countries, eight fellows were selected and each has a role in their respective sectors, such as finance, food and agriculture, communications, resilience, and oceans. It’s sad that the youth were born into a world of crisis they are not responsible for, but youth can be part of the solution. Youth are more technology-oriented and have a great learning capacity.

They also have great problem-solving abilities and insatiable curiosity for innovation. Youth should be encouraged to acquire more skills.

AO: What are the roles you have fulfilled so far?

SS: I am lucky to be part of a fantastic team and I can learn so much from them throughout this journey. I have been involved in several important activities, such as the A2Z initiative, the development of the transport sector webpage, planning and coordination of COP-related events, tracking key developments in the transport sector, and other research activities. 

The fellowship lasts for nine months and ends in December, during which we attend workshops and events and meet new people, which is great for networking.

Our trip to COP27 is a big opportunity to be involved on ground in climate action.

AO: How will this experience contribute to the development of your climate action activism?

SS: I was always a climate/clean transport advocate. With this role, I feel the industry has started taking the voice of youth more seriously. However, there is still more to be done.

AO: How important is public transport to reducing the repercussions of climate change? 

SS: As a transport planner, I believe there is a shift towards public transport and active mobility, through which there can be more road space and asset utilisation in a more inclusive and safer manner.

At this stage, electric vehicles are not affordable for all, but if we can encourage the people to adopt more sustainable and traditionally used methods of commute such as buses, walking or cycling, it would be beneficial for all in terms of the initiatives to tackle climate change effectively.

A lot more can be done to accelerate this shift if we emphasise the role of the media in explaining the good use of public transport. The former mayor of Bogota Enrique Peñalosa once said ‘A developed country isn't a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation.’ 

AO: What do you think is the best environmentally friendly experience in this field?

SS: There are many incredible examples in the transport field. It would be unfair to choose a specific experience. However, to name a few, there is the transition to electric vehicles, the case study of Bogota for the bus rapid transit system, the cycling friendly crowd and infrastructure in Netherlands, and London’s complex multimodal travel card systems.

AO: What is the most important factor that can be adopted to mitigate the repercussions of climate change?

SS: There has been growing momentum and awareness since COP26. There is also a will to change. These can be used to think more practically about sustainable transport from a more inclusive and holistic approach.

We have our eyes on the target but the people need to accept and adopt the initiatives that attain our common goal.

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